Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hubeskyla - Spencer's Return (2012)

A large sticker adorns the cover of this LP, as you can see by looking to the left. It implores the reader to 'Play it loud and drive fast!'. Not only is this terribly irresponsible by encouraging poor road safety, it also reveals the album for what it is before one has even begun to lower the needle - a driving album. Now, there's nothing wrong with driving albums per se, but in many cases, unfortunately this one inclusive, it leads to an album which is distinctly devoid of real substance.

Hubeskyla to me appear to take influences from a variety of sources - a lot of noise rock, a bit of jazz rock, a small amount of post-rock and just a little sprinkle of the NeurIsisian axis. These are popular influences, and also the sort that need to be done exceptionally well to avoid making music which amounts to nothing more than bland. Once again, I can't help but feel that 'bland' is the correct term for this album. Not to say that Hubeskyla lack good ideas completely; indeed, there are many present here, but they have a habit of taking the odd good idea, mixing it with a whole bunch of mediocre ones and stretching the whole thing out well beyond its welcome. They've tried to make a 45 minute full-length when in reality they barely have enough material for a 20 minute EP.

There are some elements of how they do things that I really like though - take, for instance, the start of the very first track 'Spanish Firebird'. There is no messing around with some empty ambient introduction before they get to business - indeed, there's not more than 5 seconds of swathing ambience before the first riff starts. And it is a riff-based album, clearly - apparently there's no bass used on the album, but this isn't really apparent until one reads the release notes, which state (I believe, my French isn't perfect) 'There are two main barriers to the simplicity of rock and roll: vocalists and bassists'. Unfortunately, somebody neglected to mention that this is often what makes 'rock and roll' interesting and/or fun to listen to. Riff-wise, this is very much based around sharp, jagged, and often triadic riffs, but too many of the riffs simply sound the same due to the over-reliance on tonic triads in their composition. There's also not enough - once again using the first track for an example, its four minutes are filled with precisely two riffs, one of which consists of three notes, and the other of two chords. Although both of these riffs are clearly intended merely as bases upon which the music develops (they are consistently surrounded by guitar effects and short solos), they dominate the music, not due to the production, but due to the fact that the net effect of the guitar effects and solos is roughly equal to 0.

Much of the album is at the same pace, and hence it's a relief when a track comes along that breaks the tepid warmth of the middle pace used. It's for this reason that 'Spencer Smith' and 'Nucleon Drive Experience' are two of the better tracks on the album - the former uses a slightly faster, decidedly more driving riff than is present elsewhere on the album (and still it is repeated too much), while the latter, which is the closing track, has a slightly slower tempo to it which certainly gives it an air of finality, acting as a redeeming factor for the mediocrity of much of the rest of the album - it sticks in the listener's head after listening, and adds a real sense of having been on a journey over the album, even if that said journey roughly consisted of driving round and round in circles in the desert going nowhere new.

Seven of the eight tracks present here don't use vocals, and this really lends an introspective feeling to the album. There's very much a sense that the band are making the music for themselves rather than for anyone else, and the whole album has a slight feeling of an extended jam session, albeit an extraordinarily well-coordinated one; I would've liked to have seen more of a wild, free-flowing element to the album given the room for improvisation in an album of this type. There are a few solos as previously mentioned, but they feel overly-structured rather than original. The one track which does feature vocals, 'Ne Touchez A Rien' (with Emmanuel Colliard doing guest vocals) is more entertaining than the rest of the album for them despite the fact that the vocals amount to little more than spoken word - the change in the general timbre of the music is very welcome at this point, the penultimate track.

I think all has been said at this point which is relevant to the review, and I will reiterate the most important point here - whilst the band maybe had enough good material for a solid 20 minute EP, what's happened here is they've chosen to extend it to an overlong album. And for that reason, I'm afraid I can't recommend it to anyone.


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